Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

New Jersey Culture and Climate Coalition

What is School Culture and Climate?

School Culture is the sum total of the behaviors and interactions of all adults and children, their attitude and norms, and the extent to which the school is safe, supportive, healthy, engaging, inspiring, and challenging for all.

School Climate is the collective perception of how well a school provides suitable conditions for learning, for positive social, emotional, and character development, for all staff to grow professionally, and for parents, families, and community resources to become engaged in the school.

Why is it important?

A positive school culture and climate is no different than clean air and water. It is the basis for sustainable learning and preparation for the tasks and tests of life. Conversely, in a toxic school culture and climate, learning by all will not take place effectively and what is learned may be sustainably negative and harmful. When a school is a positive place to be, people are happy to be there, do their best, and make their best better.

What does the research say?

Academic Impact -School climate encompasses many factors, but there is substantial evidence that a positive school climate engages students in learning and promotes academic achievement and success. Recently, a meta-analysis of over 200 studies by Joe Durlak and colleagues published in Child Development found that in schools intentionally implementing comprehensive and continuous social-emotional learning programs, students attitudes toward school and learning improved, they gained an average of over 10 points on standardized academic tests, and their problem behaviors, including violence, diminished.


Graduation Rate Impact – A study of 276 Virginia high schools found that a school climate characterized by lower rates of bullying and teasing was predictive of higher graduation rates four years later (Cornell, Gregory, Huang, & Fan, 2013). Schools with high levels of bullying and teasing had dropout rates 29% above the state average, compared with schools with a low level of bullying and teasing, which had a dropout rate 28% below average. The association between school climate and graduation rates was just as strong as the association between student poverty and graduation rates.


School and Life Success – In a 2004 book summarizing the research on Social-Emotional Learning, Joe Zins and colleagues concluded that the most important factors in students’ success in school and life is their sense of attachment and commitment to school and seeing the school as a source of positive recognition, contribution, pride, and purpose in their lives.